Archives for Tips
I recently saw a comment online that read something like, “All I use the iPhone’s Home button is for is taking screenshots. What else is it for?” Here at Unclutterer, we believe that knowing what your gear is capable of doing improves your productivity and helps to keep you organized. In short, we think you should always read the manual so you get the most of your technology and don’t waste your time and money. With that in mind, the following is a list of the things that simple little Home button can do for iPhone and iPad owners, as described in the products’ manuals.
- Go home. This is the most important feature. No matter where you are, you can get back to home screen with a tap. If he gets frustrated or lost, it’s comforting to know that a single tap of the Home button is the way out. He can start over.
- Take screenshots. Yes, it does this and it’s quite useful. Hold down to Home button and the power button (top of the device) for just a second to take a screenshot. You’ll hear a “camera shutter” noise and find the image in your Camera Roll
- Multi-Task Bar. A double-tap reveals the apps you’ve opened most recently, in order. Tap any one to jump right to it. Or, swipe the image of the app screen up and it will close the app.
- Wake. Tap the Home button to wake your iPhone’s display.
- Reset. Force a misbehaving iPhone to shut down by holding down the Home button and power button simultaneously until the screen goes dark. When you see an Apple logo, let go. Note that you only have to do this if your phone is seriously misbehaving.
- Siri. Press and hold the Home button to get the attention of Siri, Apple’s automated assistant.
- Accessibility functions. The Home button can perform one of five accessibility functions: toggle VoiceOver, switch the display to white-on-black, toggle zoom, toggle AssistiveTouch and ask which function should be performed. You can set this up in the Accessibility Settings.
- Exit “Jiggle Mode.” Jiggle Mode refers to the state your iPhone is in when you’re rearranging or removing app icons. To enter Jiggle Mode, tap and hold on any app icon. When you’re done, tap the Home button to resume normal functioning.
By reading the manual we discovered this one button can do eight separate things.
Think about all of the devices you own and all of the buttons on those devices. Do you know what every single one of those buttons does? Can it perform more than one function? If you have technology in your home or office and you don’t know all that it can do, take a few minutes now to read the manual to save you time and money in the future.
Unclutterer has written about makeup expiration, but what about all those other toiletries that tend to accumulate? Shampoos, lotions, and other products can also clutter up a bathroom.
Expiration date labels
You may find expiration dates on beauty and body care products to help you make a keep-or-toss decision — but not all products have such requirements.
Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, writing in the Chicago Tribune, summarized the requirements in the U.S:
The Food and Drug Administration requires that expiration dates be printed on all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, but not on cosmetics — unless the cosmetics are also considered drugs, such as toothpaste with fluoride, anything with sunscreen, anti-dandruff shampoo and antiperspirant. But even then, over-the-counter drugs without dose limitations don’t have to carry expiration dates if tests have proven they’re stable for at least three years, which is why one sunscreen may have a date while another won’t.
Things are different in the European Union, where cosmetic products with a shelf life of 30 months or more must have a Period-After-Opening symbol indicating how many months the product can be used “without any harm to the consumer” after it’s been opened. (Products with a shorter shelf life are labeled with a “best before” date.) Some American products have decided to use this same symbol, but that is voluntary.
Of course, if you’re going to rely on a PAO guideline, you’ll need to remember when you opened the product. You may want to write that date on the product with a permanent marker, or add a label with the date.
Real Simple reported shampoo is good for about three years; Jyl Craven Hair Design suggests “no more than three years and an opened bottle for at most 18 months.” Jyl goes on to say that some products — those that avoid using additives and preservatives — might go bad more quickly.
You can also rely on the smell and the feel of a product to alert you if it has gone bad. Amy Corbett Storch wrote:
How can you tell that shampoo is bad? Usually by the smell. An expired bottle of Pureology, for example, smells straight up like wet dog. Other signs: the shampoo appears separated or extra runny when you squirt some into your hands, and a lack of good lather.
How you store your shampoo can make a difference, too. Aubrey Organics said, discussing skin and body care products: “Long-term exposure of products to sunlight and/or heat should be avoided because the resulting oxidation may affect freshness.”
Real Simple explained: The Food and Drug Administration requires that all sunscreens maintain their optimal strength for at least three years, but you should also check the printed expiration date on the bottom or the side of the product.
But again, you’ll want to pay attention to how the product appears. Real Simple goes on to quote Zoe Draelos, a dermatologist in High Point, North Carolina: “Most commonly, a foul odor indicates that the preservative has failed.”
And Dr. Lawrence Gibson wrote on the Mayo Clinic website, “Discard sunscreen that is more than 3 years old, has been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in color or consistency.”
Proctor and Gamble explained about the expiration date on toothpaste with fluoride:
Toothpaste past its expiration date may be less effective — some fluoride won’t bind with tooth enamel, reducing the toothpaste’s ability to strengthen teeth and defend them against cavities. Another result may be viscosity issues, such as toothpaste that is more difficult to squeeze through the tube.
Dr. Joel H. Berg, chairman of pediatric dentistry at the University of Washington in Seattle, explained the binding problem and a bit more in The New York Times.
He said depending how long and at what temperatures the tube was stored, the goo inside could separate, meaning less or more fluoride in each squeeze, and less or more flavoring agent, which could be mintily disconcerting.
Real Simple suggested lip balm can be kept unopened for five years, and opened for one to five years.
For more guidance, you might check with the individual company and see what information it provides. For example, Hurraw! Balm: “We recommend using your tube of Hurraw! Balm within a year of opening (fyi, stability tests place expiration at 3 years ‘on the shelf’) and storing it between 40-72F (4-22C).”
That last part is important, because a number of people indicate that lip balm will often go bad — developing clumps and texture problems — if it gets too hot or too cold, because the emulsification of the materials gets broken.
The more careful we are about how we store our toiletries, the longer they’ll last, and the less we’ll have to toss. But careful storage still doesn’t mean the products last forever.
Sometimes you may leave your current job by choice and sometimes you don’t have an option but in today’s fast-paced economy it is best to be prepared for a job search at any time. When you’re applying for a new job, you need accurate records of where and when you worked because almost all employers perform background checks. If you have had many jobs over the years, it may be difficult to remember exact dates of employments.
The following tips explore what type of information you need to collect and how to organize it for quick reference:
Information you should collect
Company contact information: Obtain the postal address, phone number, and website of all your previous places of employment if they still exist. Additionally, if these people are still employed at the company, have your direct supervisor’s name, company email address, and telephone extension, his/her supervisor’s contact information, and this same information for a key member of the Human Resources department. If they’re not still at the company, note this in your records and try your best to obtain a private email address for your former supervisors. Future employers usually wish to verify your previous employment with the company as well as discuss your performance with a supervisor, irrespective of where that person is currently employed.
Employment record: Most large companies keep employment records that include employee training, qualifications, and performance reviews. Review this information on an annual basis to ensure that it is up-to-date and obtain a copy prior to leaving the company.
Smaller companies may not keep detailed employment records so you may have to create your own. It should include the job titles you had at the company, dates you held those positions, and the rates of your pay. It should also list any training courses you took to improve your job performance.
Compensation: In addition to your pay rate/salary, note if you earned any bonuses or commissions. This gives you a benchmark to negotiate your salary at your next place of employment. List any benefits you received such as health and dental plans, maternity benefits, holidays, family, and compassionate leave.
NOTE: You can request a statement of your employment history from your government’s employment or taxation department (Social Security in the United States). This statement will provide you with details about your places of employment, dates, and earnings. You can also find this information on your old tax returns. However, these documents do not provide job descriptions or details about supplementary training during the periods of employment.
Job descriptions: If a detailed job description is not available from the company’s Human Resources department, create your own. List all the tasks for which you were responsible, to whom you reported, and who reported to you.
NOTE: If you used acronyms in at your company, always write out the words in full. You might not remember what those letters mean a few years from now. This is especially important with proprietary software programs used within a company. No one knows what “SADC-DB” means but future employers would understand “Systematic Approach to Document Control database.”
Challenges and achievements: Using the job description, write down a few problems that you encountered during your time on the job and how you solved this problems. Make note of your achievements and awards, too. It is easier to recollect this sort of thing when you are in your current job rather than when you are updating your résumé for the next job. You can use it as leverage when discussing your salary at your next performance review or at your next job interview.
Likes and dislikes: Write down what you liked and did not like about the tasks you performed. This information should never be put on a job application or résumé, but it can definitely help you decide the types of roles in which you excel and it will save you the trouble of applying for jobs you probably wouldn’t enjoy. It may be helpful to write this information in a style that would be a suitable answer for interviewers who are going to want to know what you liked and did not like about a previous job.
Contracts: If you signed a contract for employment or a confidentiality agreement, keep a copy for your records. Ask your employer how long they recommend you keep these documents and be clear, especially with any non-compete clauses, how long they apply to you. If you work with proprietary, copyrighted, or patented material, you may be obliged to maintain confidentiality for many years after you’ve ceased working for that company. You also may be prohibited from working for a competitor for a number of years.
Certificates: If you took any specialized training (WHIMS, First Aid, computer skills) in order to do your job, make sure you keep the certificates. They are the proof of having successfully completed the training.
Reference Letters: If you’re preparing to leave a job, it will be much easier for your supervisor to provide you with a letter of reference now when he/she is familiar with your work. The letter should state things like your relationship to the letter writer and a couple examples of how you contributed to the team and helped solve problems. It can also outline your positive character traits such as being punctual, hard working, and ability to adjust to the corporate culture. Obtain several original signed copies if possible.
Organizing your employment information
A simple form (the document is in Word and works on both Mac and PC) can be used to capture the details (company, contact information, job description, likes and dislikes) of each job. You can fill out the form and save it on your computer or print a paper copy.
It is helpful to organize your employment history on your computer as many documents are now only in electronic format. It may be worthwhile to scan the original certificates and letters of reference in case the originals are lost or damaged.
Ideally, the folders on your computer and your paper files should have the same names so it is easy to cross-reference and find the information you need. For example:
Keep original copies of certificates and reference letters in file folders or binders. You may be required to provide proof of training at a job interview, so storing documents in acid-free sheet protectors will keep them in good condition.
Career transition experts indicate that résumés and cover letters should be customized for each job application for best results. By having your employment history organized and easily accessible it will eliminate some of the stress in applying for a new job or promotion.
Finally, special thanks goes to TORI Award winning career transition expert Audrey Prenzel for her guidance on this topic.
Doing your own sewing repairs can save you some money and you’ll always be able to leave the house looking neat and tidy. You don’t need to be a seamstress or tailor or need a bunch of expensive equipment. This list outlines basic essentials. If you have some talent or training in sewing you may want to invest in more tools, but these are the minimal items necessary for most DIY repairs. If you prefer, you can buy a sewing kit that contains all of the basics. I would rather build my own kit, as I prefer left-handed scissors and I like to select my own colours of thread.
Invest in quality scissors to be used only for sewing. I recommend two pairs: Dressmakers shears with 8″ (200mm) blades for cutting fabric and embroidery scissors that have blades about 3″ or 4″ (90mm) long for precision cutting and trimming. If you’re left-handed, buy left-handed shears. It will make sewing tasks much easier.
Using sewing scissors for paper and plastic will quickly dull the blades making it difficult to cut fabric. Use a marker or label to indicate that these scissors are to be used for sewing only.
Needles and Pins
Purchase a variety of needles in a one-at-a-time dispensing pack. You’ll have the needles you need and they’ll be organised too!
Pins should be straight and sharp with colourful heads that do not melt if you iron over them. Store the pins in a small plastic box or in a pincushion. Magnetised pin holders are handy for picking pins up from the floor but they do not protect your fingers from getting stabbed.
Safety pins, in a variety of sizes can be used for pinning things together that you may not have time to sew. They can also be used to help feed elastic or cord through waistbands and cuffs. You can hook them together into a long strand to keep them organized if you don’t have a storage container.
Purchase quality poly-cotton blend thread in a variety of colours that match the majority of your clothing. You should also buy an olive drab colour because it can be used on almost any dark material (blues, blacks, browns). There is a reason the army calls this colour “camouflage!” Good quality thread should have a smooth finish; fuzzy thread will tend to get caught while sewing and break easily if pulled too hard.
This is a tool with a sharp point, a blunt point and a sharp blade in the middle. If you stitch something in the wrong place, use a seam ripper to cut the stitches without cutting the fabric. It can also be used to remove buttons that are half hanging off and for cutting thread in areas that scissors won’t reach.
You should have a flexible measuring tape at least 150cm (60″) long with imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other. Fabric tape measures stretch slightly with heavy use so if yours is older, you may wish to replace it so that you have accurate measurements.
Iron, Ironing Board
Ironing removes the wrinkles and seams and presses folds neat and sharp making fabrics easier to sew. If you don’t have the space to store a full-sized ironing board, invest in an ironing pad. Also use a pressing cloth when ironing delicate items that might be damaged or those that have a special surface such as sequins or glitter. There is no need to purchase a special store bought pressing cloth, a lightweight cotton or linen dishtowel will do as long as it is clean, stain-free, and white as colours and stains may transfer to your fabric.
Fusible hem tape is used with an iron to quickly hem skirts and pants. It is ideal if you don’t have matching thread available or if you’re in a hurry. Be careful when you iron as you might scorch delicate fabrics. It may lose its adhesiveness after multiple washings so stitching can reinforce it.
Keep a variety of buttons handy in assorted colours and sizes to match the majority of your clothing. Keep them in a small, divided, plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Often the clothes you purchase will come with little packet of extra buttons so this little container is a great place to store those extra buttons.
It never fails that in the rush to school and work in the morning, someone has a nylon backpack strap or shoelace that is unravelling. A quick flick of the lighter will melt the ends of synthetic straps so they won’t unravel. And if someone misplaces the lighter used for the birthday candles, you’ve always got a spare one in your sewing kit.
Sewing tools need to be cared for just like any other tools. Keep them free from dirt and do not drop them. Store your sewing tools in a plastic bin or decorative basket. It can be plain or fancy, with or without handles. It should however, have a sturdy latch.
How much stuff do we have in our homes that we seldom use? The infrequent baker may have muffin tins, cookie cutters and such that hardly ever leave the cabinet. The person living in a warm climate may have clothes for the once-a-year ski trip; families may have tents for twice-a-year camping trips. Homeowners may have tools bought for a single need — tools that are rarely if ever used again.
If you don’t like giving your space (or your money) to these infrequently used items, you may want to investigate ways to rent or borrow these items. Or, perhaps you enjoy owning certain items, but would like to allow others to save money and space by borrowing from you. You can rent all sorts of things, but for now I’d like to focus on borrowing.
You may well have friends or family members who you can borrow from (and lend to), but what if you don’t?
My old condo HOA had a lot of game/sports stuff. For instance, you could borrow the croquet set and put it up in the greenbelt behind your townhouse. It was a random mix of games and toys but it was actually really nice.
Neighborhood, condo, or apartment building Facebook groups are another way to facilitate sharing. MetaFilter member Jacquilynne Schlesier shared her experience:
We have a very active FB group for our building on which people are constantly asking if anyone has an X they can borrow. Most if not all of those requests are fulfilled within about an hour. I’ve lent people my sewing machine, my grocery cart, my c-clamps and my drill. I’ve borrowed a flatbed dolly, and also asked people to save up their empty cereal boxes for me instead of recycling them so I could use them for a project. Our FB group gets a bit testy, but people helping each other is actually one of the things I love about living here.
If you have a good local freecycle group, and your group allows borrowing, that’s another possible route to go. There are also websites focused on facilitating this kind of sharing.
NeighborGoods, which Unclutterer has mentioned before, defines itself as a “social platform for peer-to-peer borrowing and lending. Need a ladder? Borrow it from your neighbor. Have a bike collecting dust in your closet? Lend it out and make a new friend.” NeighborGoods also has sharing guidelines that include things, such as:
Over in the U.K, Streetbank is “a site that helps you share and borrow things from your neighbours.” People can add things they want to lend or give away, and can include skills they are willing to share, as well as their stuff. As the FAQ states: “Communities that help each other are closer, nicer, and friendlier to live in. Streetbank can help make your neighbourhood a nicer place.”
I haven’t used NeighborGoods myself — the closest community is an hour’s drive away from me — but the idea behind NeighborGoods and Streetbank is appealing. I have done some lending; for example, my neighbor borrows my manual juicer when she needs one.
While it always makes sense to take reasonable precautions when borrowing or lending, sharing with others lets all of us live a somewhat less cluttered life.
Lately, Unclutterer writer Jacki Hollywood Brown and I have been sending each other links to humorous articles about people who come up as the INTJ type on the Meyers-Briggs personality test. Both Jacki and I are this rare result (fewer than 3 percent of females), and although we don’t put a huge amount of stake in these test results, we both nod our heads and smile when we read articles describing traits that are common to our INTJ type.
It is in this same vein that I present these rules of being organized. Obviously, they aren’t laws and don’t all apply exactly to everyone who is organized. Rather, they’re a trend. They’re a fun way to get a big picture view of how people who are organized live. As we do with the INTJ personality descriptions, feel welcome to nod and smile as you read through this list, but please stop short of printing it out and handing it to someone demanding they adopt each of these rules. (Although, my INTJ personality does love a good checklist …)
Rules for being organized
- Know yourself. Organized people typically know themselves very well. They know how they access information and goods and create storage systems that reflect these preferences. They know how many steps is too many for them to maintain order. They know how they prefer to work and live. They know what they need, and what they don’t need. They know their responsibilities. Most importantly, they know what they want in life and what their priorities are.
- Being organized is not the goal. People who are organized are not organized for the sake of being organized. They are organized so they can enjoy the benefits of being organized. An organized life is their way of getting rid of distractions so they can focus on what matters most to them.
- Expect to fail. No one is organized in every aspect of their life every day of their life. People fall off the organized wagon. The difference between organized and disorganized people, however, is that organized people accept this as part of the process and simply start again. We’re human; we don’t have super powers.
- A place for everything, and everything in its place. People who are organized have a place to store every single item they have in their home. If something doesn’t have a storage place, it will always be out of place and in the way. Each shirt needs a hanger or a space in a drawer. If there isn’t enough room to store all of your shirts, there will always be dirty laundry or clean laundry hanging out in a hamper. If shoes don’t have a place to live, they will wind up in the middle of the living room floor or in a heap by the door.
- Write it down. This could also be stated as “capture it” or “type it in.” The point is that organized people get their to-do items out of their heads and onto a list or calendar so they don’t worry about dropping the ball. No need to remember you have a dentist appointment on Thursday when you can just look at your calendar and see that it’s scheduled on Thursday. Your mental resources are free to think about important problems/happy thoughts/complex issues instead of when, six months from now, you should be at your dentist’s office.
- Routines are the backbone of organization. Organized people have routines worked into their days to take care of the boring, repetitive, and/or undesirable tasks. At the end of a work day, the desk is cleared, tomorrow’s calendar and to-do lists are reviewed, and the desk is set so it is ready to go the next morning so work can begin immediately. After school, the kids pull out their lunch boxes and put them on the kitchen counter and then have a snack high in protein before settling in to do their homework. At bedtime, the kids take a bath, put on their pajamas, have no more than three books read to them (which have been chosen prior to the bath), and then it is lights out at the same time every night. Actions are dependable and familiar and provide stability.
- Follow through and don’t delay. Organized people don’t see dinner as being finished when the last bite of food is swallowed. Organized people see dinner as being finished when the table is cleared and wiped down, the floor has been swept, all dirty dishes have been loaded into the dishwasher, and the dishwasher is started. Wrapping a present isn’t finished when the bow is placed on the package but only after all supplies — tape, wrapping paper — have been properly stored. If anything can be done in less than two minutes, it will be done straight away instead of putting it on a to-do list.
- Do your part. Organized people tend to see that they are part of a unit or team instead of a lone wolf. This means, if they share a house with someone, they know they have responsibilities about cleaning, caring, and maintaining the home simply because they live there. They try not to make work for other people and do what has been assigned to them. Or, if they are in charge of assigning work, they know that everyone involved has a stake in the project/home/team/etc. and thus make sure everyone has responsibilities reflecting their abilities to contribute.
- Don’t own a lot of superfluous stuff. When organized people cease having a need for something, they typically get rid of it. They only keep what they value or use.
- Trust in the future. Most organized people trust that in the future they will be able to either buy, borrow, or acquire the tools they will need when they need them. Saving an unnecessary object just in case isn’t really an organized person’s style. That being said, an organized person does tend to have things that are useful and necessary on hand when they are needed. For example, toilet paper rarely runs out in an organized person’s home because systems are in place for storing and replacing toilet paper as demand requires. An organized person will likely have one shelf in a linen closet designated for toilet paper storage and when supply depletes beyond a certain point, toilet paper will be added to the shopping list. Conversely, an organized person doesn’t buy more toilet paper than can fit on the toilet paper storing shelf just because there is a deal. Other deals will come and an organized person trusts that he will take advantage of those other deals when he needs more toilet paper.
- You are not your things and your things don’t contain souls. Organized people aren’t heartless creatures who never feel anything sentimental toward a physical object. In fact, they might be sentimental fools. This being said, they are rational enough to know that grandpa is not IN the painting he left them after he died. They know that the baby blanket they saved for their child is not their child. If they get rid of the object or if the object is destroyed in a fire, their memories still exist and they still love grandpa and their child.
- It’s better to have a tree than a forest. Sometimes I phrase this as “quality over quantity.” Either way, organized people tend to keep the best object (best, obviously, being subjective to the keeper) instead of all the objects. Instead of keeping a five inch stack of their child’s artwork from kindergarten, they keep their favorite piece and hang it on the wall or store it in an archival quality way. Instead of printing every photograph from a favorite vacation and hanging all 427 images on the wall, they frame their one favorite image or use it as their screensaver on their computer.
- Being organized isn’t for everyone, it’s a choice only you can make for yourself. Simply stated, you can’t force someone to be organized. Not everyone has a desire to be organized. There are multiple paths to a happy, fulfilled life, and being organized is just one path to that goal. You can certainly teach others about how to be organized and you can let them see the benefits you garner from being organized, but you can’t force someone into being organized. And, harboring resentment toward others for not being organized only clutters up your time. Accept their decision, no matter how much it frustrates you. Maybe one day they will come around to your way of seeing things and they will be more likely to ask for your help if they’re not mad at you for being a jerk to them when they weren’t.
- Anyone can be organized. Being organized is a skill set, it is not a natural ability — it’s nurture, not nature. It certainly comes more easily to some people, but that doesn’t mean an organized life is impossible to achieve if it comes slowly to someone else. Being organized takes practice, same as a sport.
Writing a book is a huge project; many people who have a book they would like to write are so daunted by the effort required that they never get that book written. But successful authors have strategies for getting the work done — and these are strategies all of us can apply to our own big projects, regardless of type.
Break the work down into bite-sized pieces
Matt Swanson captures the overwhelmed feeling some potential authors have:
I’d like to write a book, but I don’t have time to do all that work.
But do you have an hour to outline a table of contents? Could you write 500 words today?
As Swanson indicates, focusing on just the next small step can get someone going — and step by step, the big project gets done.
In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about focusing on “short assignments.” An example of one short assignment:
All I’m going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words.
Michelle Richmond echoes that thought:
Don’t be afraid to write a paragraph here, a page there. Not everything has to be a full-fledged chapter in the early stages of novel-writing. If you have a scene in your head that you know you want to write, go for it. But if you sit down at your computer and feel flustered and uncertain, allow yourself the freedom to think in small bits. Tell yourself, “Today I’m going to write 1200 words about where my character lives,” or “Today I’m going to write 500 words about what’s troubling the narrator.”
Lamott also quotes E. L. Doctorow:
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
What this means for the rest of us: Our big projects could be things such as preparing our tax returns, uncluttering our photos, or getting our files in order. We can emulate these authors, and break each project down into small pieces that feel doable.
Create a daily habit
Over and over, writers talk about the importance of writing every day — or at least five days per week. Some set a goal regarding number of words; others focus on hours spent doing the writing.
Srinivas Rao, who is writing a number of shorter pieces rather than a book, realized he’d never makes his commitments if he waited to be inspired, so he started writing 1,000 words every day:
If I woke up at a place that wasn’t home, I wrote 1,000 words.
If I had no idea what to write, I put my fingers on the keyboard … and I wrote 1,000 words.
If I didn’t feel like it (this one is really important), I wrote 1,000 words.
You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not.
What this means for the rest of us: We can also create daily practices, with specific goals. We could set the equivalent of a daily word-count goal; for example, we might commit to going through a certain number of files, papers, or photos. Or, we could decide to spend a certain amount of time working on our big project every day. Either way, we don’t have to make a huge time commitment — we’re not doing this for a living, as authors are with their writing! But seeing daily progress might be just what some of us need to keep going and get our projects done.
Here’s a strategy that Darren Rowse shares:
- Identify what you want to achieve.
- Allocate 15 minutes a day to it.
- Over the next year you will will spend 91 hours on your task.
Organizing a home renovation is no easy task. Coordinating with contractors, applying for building permits, and keeping track of all of the bills, invoices, and receipts can be quite time consuming. The following seven tips are things to consider prior to starting a renovation project so it runs more smoothly.
Unclutter. Keep only items used on a daily basis in the space you are renovating. For example, during a summer time kitchen renovation, pack away Christmas dishes and place them in storage. If the renovation is scheduled for your bedroom, place off-season and seldom worn clothing in another area of the house.
Security. There will be times when your home will not be secure, such as when workers are transporting materials in and out or if windows are being replaced. Consider placing valuable jewelry and vital documents (birth certificates, social security cards, etc.) in a safety deposit box for the duration of the renovation. Other sensitive documents, such as receipts and bank statements should be stored in a locked filing cabinet. Sentimental items such as photos, souvenirs, and memorabilia should also be packed away so they will not be damaged.
Safety. Remember that a renovation is a construction site. There may be electrical wires exposed and places where you can slip, trip, or fall. Discuss the risks with the contractor and consider installing barrier gates to keep children and pets out of the area. Small pets such as guinea pigs and rabbits can get into holes and get sealed in. Cats may get curious and get stuck in places they shouldn’t. Dogs may get slivers in their paws from walking through broken bits of wood. Consider having your four-legged friends stay with family, friends, or pet daycare if you cannot be home to supervise them during the renovation process.
Review routines. Before the renovations begin, examine all of the ways the project will interrupt your regular routines. For example, if you have to shower in the guest bathroom in the mornings, will you be able to walk through the house in your bathrobe? You may need to plan extra time the night before to bring your clothes to the guest bathroom. If you will be using another entryway for access into the house, you may need to move the car keys, cell phone charger, and children’s backpacks. Ensure you have a place for incoming mail so that bills still get paid and important documents get filed. If you can’t get to your filing cabinet, invest in a small accordion-filing folder to use during the renovation process.
Create swing space. If furniture must be removed from certain rooms during the renovation process, it should be placed in a way that doesn’t interfere with household operations. You just can’t cook a decent meal with a sectional sofa in the middle of the kitchen. You may wish to clear your garage or basement or consider putting some furniture temporarily into storage during the renovation.
Plan for the unplanned. You should have a back up plan in case of emergencies, such as a busted water pipe or heating/air-conditioning system shutdown. Have a list of local hotels handy in case you need to make a last-minute reservation. It is also helpful to have a list of local restaurants that offer take-out and delivery for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Keep a stash of coins and a large mesh bag in your car in case you need to use the local Laundromat.
Think positive. As my mother is fond of saying, “This too shall pass.” Renovations are a temporary state. Once completed, you’ll be able to enjoy your new space, and look back and smile at your renovation adventure.
When it comes to shredding, people have two major questions:
Question 1: Which papers need to be shredded?
The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has a sensible list of shredding guidelines, noting the types of information you definitely want to shred if you decide to purge them from your filing cabinet. It also lists of other types of information you may want to shred — as well as a list of specific types of papers to consider shredding. The general guidelines are:
Destroy all sensitive information, including junk mail and paperwork, that includes:
- Account numbers
- Birth dates
- Passwords and PINs
- Social Security numbers
To protect your privacy, you should also consider shredding items that include:
- Phone numbers
- E-mail addresses
Question 2: What kind of shredder should I get and what if I don’t want to buy a shredder?
When it comes to products and services for shredding, you’ve got a number of choices, so pick whichever approach works best for you.
Shredding scissors. Shredding scissors aren’t great, since they produce a strip cut rather than a cross cut, which means it would be easier for someone to reassemble your papers. If you do use these, you may want to put some of the shredded paper in one trash bag, and some in another. I’ve also been known to put shredded stuff in with the used kitty litter I’m taking to the trash, to reduce the chance anyone would go through the garbage to get it.
Shredders. You’ll find a lot of choices here, and numerous recommendations. I’ve had my Fellowes 79Ci for years now, and it has never once jammed or given me any other problem, I’m a fan. And Erin recommended this shredder, too. More recently, Erin also recommended the Staples 10-Sheet Cross-Cut Shredder with a lockout key. And the Swingline Stack-and-Shred products are interesting, since you don’t need to feed papers into them as you would with most shredders.
Shredding services. When it comes to services that will shred papers for you, you’ve also got a number of options. Some office supply stores are now providing shredding services in some or all of their locations: Office Depot, Staples, The UPS Store, etc. There are also dedicated shredding companies; you either drop off your papers or a shredding truck comes to you. A Google search should help you find one in your area.
Several years ago, organizer Margaret Lukens sent an email cautioning about some of these shredding services, and she has given me permission to share that caution with you:
Some companies tout their trucks that come around and do it on-site and let you watch. Sounds good, and I’ve used them myself on jobs in the past, but I’ve heard of whole checks making it through those shredders, and San Francisco hospital medical records showing up WHOLE in bales of paper purchased by California farmers as animal bedding. This typically happens because the teeth in the shredder get broken (someone accidentally puts their marble paper weight in the shred bin or whatever) and it costs the company too much to take that truck out of service. You see the paper go into the shredder, but you don’t see it come out — and that’s what counts!
Margaret goes on to recommend using an NAID-certified shredding company — NAID being the National Association for Information Destruction. Office Depot, Staples and the UPS Store all partner with Iron Mountain for pick-up, and Iron Mountain is indeed “NAID certified for document destruction at each Iron Mountain location in the United States.” However, Office Depot also offers in-store shredding for smaller jobs, which would not be under the control of Iron Mountain.
The non-shredding alternative: stampers. Stampers are designed to obliterate your confidential information so the papers don’t need to be shredded. If you’re considering this approach, I recommend organizer Julie Bestry’s comprehensive look at the pros and cons of using these products.
Related question: Which papers should I keep and which papers should I purge?
Erin’s infographic on What to shred, scan, or store? can help you answer this question. Also, check with a local accountant and lawyer to be sure you’re keeping the appropriate papers for where you live — some states have different requirements than the IRS when it comes to retaining original documents.
A few years ago, I was fed up with the frenzy of realizing something important was due … two hours after I had missed a deadline. After much trial and error, and a little dragging of my feet, I’ve established a workable daily routine. For me, adherence to a routine is especially important. Since I work from home, I’ve only got six hours to myself while my wife and kids are at school, and enough work for much more than that. I keep it all manageable, in part, with a fixed routine. It’s all about knowing what’s coming, preparing ahead of time, and finding a “home” for key items and ideas.
The view from up here – knowing what’s coming
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of my routine, I must briefly address projects. I define a project as David Allen does: anything that takes more than one action step to complete. Therefore, “land the new client” is a project, but so is “give Jr. permission to go on the field trip.”
In Getting Things Done, Allen emphasizes the importance of dealing with your stuff “when it shows up, not when it blows up.” If you can get past the Doctor Phil-ness of that rhyme, you see the wisdom in it. Remembering Jr.’s permission slip is no good after he’s been at school for two hours.
With this in mind, I have a running list of what tasks need to be done. My list is a week long, and it lives on a bulletin board behind my desk (I’ve previously written about my search for the perfect bulletin board). Each Sunday, I review what must be done over the next week, write those actions on index cards, and pin them to the board.
Preparing ahead of time
It took me years to learn this lesson. Remember the kid who was always rushing last second to finish that paper in school?
Hello. Nice to see you again.
Today I’ve finally realized that I’m not an adrenaline junkie, and that last-second frenzy is not something I enjoy. As a result, my daily routine actually begins the night before. As evening draws near, I:
- Make sure the kids’ bags are packed for school and that all required papers, etc. are inside those bags.
- Ensure that clean, weather-appropriate clothing is available for school the next morning.
- Review the “home” calendar (I have a separate work calendar) for pressing to-dos (sign permission slips, special pick-up or drop-off arrangements, etc.) and act accordingly.
- Review what’s due at work tomorrow, make sure it’s written down, and any necessary materials are ready to go for the morning.
Your evening prep list might look different, but the idea is the same: review what’s due tomorrow — be it a PowerPoint presentation or snow boots and gloves — and get it as ready as you can the night before.
Finding a home
Being who I am (warning: one NSFW word in the title of the linked post) I tend to misplace things. Just like the sun tends to be hot. So, a part of my daily routine has been to ensure that everything is where it needs to be.
This isn’t the same as my evening prep. Instead, I’ve established a “home” for important items when they’re idle. For example, car keys are always in the Roscoe, New York, coffee mug on my night stand. Always. My coat and hat live on the second peg of the closet door. Even when I’m walking around, I know which pocket each doohicky should inhabit (phone is right front, every day).
Following these rules impacts my day significantly. I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there looking for who knows what. I’ve done that and it’s not fun. An ongoing part of my daily routine is to put everything in its proper place as I go.
The website Personal Organizing has shared some good, general tips for establishing and, more importantly, adhering to a daily routine. Some highlights include:
- Make breakfast simple. Find something nutritious that you can routinely prepare without much fuss.
- Organize the kitchen and pantry cabinets. Meal prep is easier, and everyone living with you can answer, “where does this go?” all on their own.
- Have a good mail management system. In regards to paper mail, my wife and I have our own desks for processing this stuff, and that’s been a godsend.
- Get the pets on a schedule. It takes some doing, but it’s definitely worth it.
“My stuff is all over the place”, she said to me.
The answer is easy, organizationally.
I’d like to help you in your desire to be neat,
There must be fifty ways to use a basket.
Organizing doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Small baskets can be purchased at discount stores and can be used in many ways. Put them in drawers to group similar items together. Put them on counters to stop clutter from spreading. The following is a list with 50 ways to use a small basket.
In the kitchen:
- to group spice jars together
- to hold packets of sauce mixes
- to hold lids for reusable food plastic storage containers
- to group small, sharp knives together in the drawer
- to group measuring spoons in the drawer
- to hold all the parts for the food processor
- to hold re-usable wine corks
- to hold twist ties
- on the counter to hold the plugs for the kitchen sink and the pot scrubber
In the fridge:
- to group together small round cheeses, cheese slices and cheese sticks
- to hold mini yogurt containers
- to contain single use soy sauce, mustard, and ketchup packets for lunches
In the office desk drawer for:
- paper clips and staples
- tape, hole punch
- erasers and correction fluid
- highlighters, markers
- pens, pencils
- batteries and small screwdrivers
- postage stamps and envelopes
In the bathroom to contain:
- eye glass cleaning accessories
- contact lens accessories
- hair elastics, barrettes, etc.
- make up and accessories
- nail polish and nail care accessories
- razors, shaving accessories
- bandages, antibiotic cream
- dental supplies (toothpaste, floss, etc.)
- feminine hygiene supplies
In the bedroom:
- to group jewelry on the dresser
- to hold coins found in pockets
- beside the bed to hold lip balm, hand cream, etc.
At the front entry to hold:
- spare change from pockets
- wallet, keys
- cell phone and Blackberry
- shoe polish and rags
In the toolbox for:
- small screwdrivers
- drill bits
- sockets for socket wrench
- router bits
- hooks, nails, screws
- clips and clamps
To contain children’s:
- paints, brushes
- beads and thread
- yarn and knitting needles
- doll clothes and shoes
- small parts for board games
- playing cards
In the car’s glove box to contain:
- mini measuring tape, pen, cell phone recharging cord, sunglasses
Have you resolved to get more organized in 2014? The following suggestions are ways to ensure you actually accomplish the goals you’ve set.
Get a buddy or a support group
Here’s what works best for me when I’m trying to keep a resolution: involving other people in helping me reach my goal. One of my goals is to go walking daily. I have been most successful when I had a walking buddy as we’d keep each other going. Another thing that worked, although not quite as well, has been to get a Fitbit. I have friends that also use Fitbits, and we see each other’s daily step counts, and cheer each other on.
I’ve also found that having an accountability partner works well for me. For the past few months, I’ve been exchanging daily emails with a friend, telling her what I accomplished that day, and often mentioning my plans for the next day; she sends similar messages to me. Knowing I’m going to tell someone what I’ve completed inspires me to have good news to report every day. We’re each other’s cheering squad — and who couldn’t use one of those?
Be willing to adjust if necessary
If you find you’re having a hard time with a particular resolution, maybe you need to rethink it. For example, could you reach your goal using a different strategy than you originally had in mind?
Let’s say your goal was to keep up with your mail (or your email) and not let things pile up in your inbox. Maybe you intended to clear out your inbox every day. If that’s not working for you, what could you adjust? Would it work better to tackle this at a different time of day? Would it work better to set this as a weekly goal rather than a daily goal? Would it help to focus on eliminating the incoming mail, so there’s less to go through each day? Could someone else do a part of the “dealing with the mail” work?
You may find the resolution you set was simply overly ambitious. Maybe the answer is to set a new goal that still moves you in the right direction, even if it doesn’t take you quite as far, quite as quickly.
Make things easy; remove barriers
Continuing on the mail example: Do you get a lot of items that require shredding? If so, do you have a good shredder?
More generally, make sure you have the tools you need to support you in reaching your goals. For example, when I needed to get more exercise, one thing I needed was a pair of better shoes than the ones I had.
Understand the science of habits
Stopping bad habits and developing new ones isn’t always easy. If you understand more about how habits work, you may find it easier to get those new habits in place. One place to start would be The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, which looks at some recent research on this subject. Steve Silberman has an informative review of the book, as well as an interview with Duhigg.
It’s also worth realizing, as Margaret Lukens points out, establishing new habits might take longer than the 21 days or 30 days you’ve probably heard about. If it’s taking a while for your new habits to become automatic, that’s normal — and no reason to get discouraged.